Today Orleans United begins a 4-part preaching series on Stewardship. If you’ve been around any church regularly over the last 60 years you’ve likely heard the word, but still may not have a really good idea of what stewardship strives to encourage among those of us who are followers of Jesus. Every year Rev. Molly and I try to give our church family a different look at stewardship, and this year we focus it through the lens of “fruitfulness.” If you’ve already looked at the Life & Ministry page for this week you will have noticed the themes we’ll be addressing, and in addition a brief definition of the word “fruitfulness,” which has just been added to a growing collection of stewardship words compiled by a ministry team at OUC called “Stewardship Conversation.” And if you’re interested in joining a conversation like that, check out “Words that Encourage Meaningful Living” on our church website … that’s a good place to start.
As Stephen is coming forward to lead us in prayer and read our Scripture for today, I also wanted to say a word about what was a dominant philosophical idea during the time when the Apostle Paul was writing his letters 2000 years ago, and honestly which continues to influence the way many people still understand the tension between good and evil today. It was commonly accepted then that the human body was at odds with the sacred spirit … that human flesh was a cesspool where all evil things resided and that the only way to be saved was to choose what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” in this passage. This artificial dualism has convinced many people that the passions of our human bodies need to be eliminated or at least suppressed in order to live more spiritually – that somehow our bodies get in the way of our spiritualty. From my faith perspective, that couldn’t be farther from God’s truth, but when you hear our reading this morning you might assume that God disapproves of these bodies in which we live. I’m here to tell you, God loves you – your body and your soul – and wants to partner with your whole self to sow God’s love as generously as you can.
From Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapter 5:
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
OK, let’s be honest. Human beings are capable of some really bad behaviour. Sometimes it’s laughable, like our bizarre obsessions with sexuality, or shopping, or food, or watching professional sports or following celebrities online. But there are times, like this past week, when bad behaviour can break our hearts, can frighten us to death, and can even compromise our belief in the goodness of all people. Some of what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” offend us so deeply, we don’t know exactly where to turn or what to do.
I’m grateful – even though I don’t subscribe exactly to Paul’s tension between flesh and spirit – I am grateful that he follows his list of top 10 ugliest “works of the flesh” with such a beautiful list of human blessings. And I’m especially appreciative that he names them fruit … the fruit of the Spirit. I invite you to prayerfully speak them together now and feel their soothing affect – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
So when you think of fruit, the kind you actually eat – what’s your all-time favourite? … who said peach? I’m with you! Last August we were in PA when the peaches came in. So we went to the orchard, got a small basket, and took them home to my sister’s. I rinsed the best looking one in the bunch, and leaned over the sink to take my first bite. Whoa! That’s the definition of fruit. The texture and flavour and sweetness fills your mouth … and it’s goodness is so overflowing that it runs down your chin and into the sink … and you chew slowly, even reverently, so as not to miss one note of the experience … and the only words that form in your mind and mouth are from the Bible, quoting God, “That’s good.” Real fruit is a whole body experience, and if it’s spiritual in any way it’s because your body participates and shares. I like to think the same way when I contemplate “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Look at them again. It’s not enough just to think about these ideas. In fact, if you’re only contemplating them they really don’t qualify as fruit … oh, they’re wonderful ideals to affirm and proclaim, but only when you actually take a bite and taste their goodness, only then can they bless you with God’s promise of a whole and fruitful life. Only then can they feed and nourish you from within, only then can they shape the way you will choose to live in God’s world. By ingesting and embodying the “fruit of the Spirit” in your everyday living is how God blesses you and those around you. It’s how the Spirit guides us as we cultivate the attitudes necessary to live as God’s expression of goodness for others. So take any one of them and ask yourself, if I take a full bite of patience (for example) what will patience look like in my daily choices? How will patience behave in my relationships? Where will patience be visible to those who know me best? The fruit of the Spirit is given by the Spirit to actively cultivate in you God’s attitude of goodness. God’s goodness is not just something you consume; it actively works in you in order to share.
Which gets me back to the Children’s time this morning; the best part of the fruit is its seed. Late last summer I read Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda, which chronicles the earliest contacts between Europeans and the First Nations in Canada – a powerful book on many levels. When I read the description of how those aboriginal tribes celebrated harvest I was touched. It wasn’t only the cooperative gathering up of the bounty, storing it for winter, sharing the abundance within their community and beyond, all of which was moving enough. The ritual of harvesting the best seeds from the produce, and the prayerful preservation of those sacred seeds, the reverent mindfulness of how the Spirit’s goodness and their blessed hope for the future was embedded in those seeds – that made me ponder how little many of us really know or care about where our fruits and vegetables and grains come from these days.
In our highly consumerist culture, genetically modified seeds somehow are invented by multinational chemical corporations and then planted and harvested by monster-machines of huge agri-businesses around the globe – science and technology swallowing up the mystery and spirituality of fruitfulness. But I don’t criticize; I simply observe that fruit is not for consumption only … the most important part of fruit is that it alone holds within the seeds for our future. And that’s also true of the fruits of the Spirit. To harvest and consume them for ourselves only, to say yes I want gentleness or patience or joy for myself, but I’m not willing or able to collect and plant those seeds for others, is to miss the very nature of fruitfulness.
And that’s where our church community comes in. Here is the place where we weekly harvest the best seeds from this fruit; here with each other we prayerfully preserve the teachings that encourage faithfulness, here in God’s presence we honour the goodness of these attitudes and the desire to plant them again and again in the lives of all who worship here. Here, in our faith community is the sacred storehouse of the Spirit’s fruits. And because we live by the Spirit, we are also guided by the Spirit to plant those seeds of fruitfulness in our children, for each other, among our neighbours, and around the world. Thanks be to God.
Orleans United Church
October 26, 2014